Sydney and Violet Schiff, the first owners of Lady Reading, were generous patrons of the arts. Sydney Schiff was a novelist, publishing under the pseudonym Stephen Hudson, and he and Violet married in 1911. Their circle of friends included T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce and Ezra Pound, whom Lewis described in his autobiography Blasting and Bombardiering (1937) as the 'Men of 1914'. In 1923 Schiff commissioned Lewis to paint Violet's portrait (now in the Tate, London), whose unfinished appearance infamously came about because she found Lewis so exasperating to sit for that she cut short the sittings.
Nevertheless Lewis and Schiff had a close friendship, and the Schiffs entertained many leading artists and authors of the time. It was Ezra Pound, the American poet and critic, who first introduced Lewis to T.S. Eliot, soon after Eliot returned from Germany at the outbreak of the First World War. In a letter to Sydney Schiff, Eliot expressed his admiration for Lewis, stating, 'I do not know anyone more profitable to talk to' (T.S. Eliot, The Letters of T.S. Eliot Vol. 1: 1898-1922, London, 1988, p. 403). Their admiration was mutual, and Eliot wrote in both issues of Lewis's magazine The Tyro, as well as including his poems Preludes and Rhapsody of a Windy Night in the second publication of Blast, the 'War Number' in July 1915. This was to be Eliot's first publication in England.
In Blasting and Bombardiering Lewis recalls his impression of Eliot when he first met him in Pound's flat: he described him as 'a sleek, tall, attractive apparition - with a sort of Gioconda smile'. His 1938 portrait of Eliot (Durban Municipal Art Gallery) was famously rejected by the Royal Academy for including a phallic symbol in the background. However Eliot supported the painting: 'It seems to me a very good portrait, and one by which I am quite willing that posterity should know me, if it takes any interest in me at all ... and I certainly have no desire, now, that my portrait should be painted by any painter whose portrait of me would be accepted by the Royal Academy' (letter from Eliot to Lewis, 21 April 1938). The last oil that Lewis completed before his eyesight failed was of Eliot, painted in 1949, which is now in the collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge.